When Serena is asked to sign off the suicide of a severely disabled local businessman, she finds herself envying the grieving widow’s comfortable life and devoted marriage – until the widow’s close relationship with the local rector starts to sound an alarm. But with a clean crime scene and no evidence to back her up, have Serena’s instincts led her down the wrong path?
With her husband struggling to deal with the aftermath of an attack that nearly cost him his life, and her young children anxious and unhappy, Serena’s determination to unlock the mystery of what happened in that house may cost her her job – and her family.
Read on for an extract from So Say the Fallen…
So Say the Fallen
Flanagan stood at the kitchen sink, a mug of coffee in one hand, looking out over the garden. Rain dotted the window, a lacklustre shower that had darkened the sky as she watched. Behind her, Alistair sat at the table with Ruth and Eli, telling them to eat their breakfast, they’d be late. Flanagan had showered and dressed an hour ago; she had her holster attached to her belt, the Glock 17 snug inside, hidden beneath her jacket, her bag packed and ready for the day. Still half an hour before she needed to go.
Mornings had been like this for months now. She rising early, still tired, her night’s sleep fractured by Alistair’s gasping and clutching. A year had passed since the Devine brothers had invaded their home, since one of them had plunged a blade into her husband’s flank. A year since she had pressed wadded-up bedding against the wound, begging him not to die.
He blamed her. She brought this upon their family. He hadn’t said so after that first night in the hospital, but she was certain he still believed it. Once, he had asked her to think about getting out of the force. Or at least leaving the front line, taking an admin role. Her reaction had been angry enough that he had never asked again.
Last night had been bad. Flanagan had lain silent, pretending to sleep as Alistair wept in the darkness. Choked, frightened sobs. Eventually, he had got up and left the room. She had heard the faint babble of the television from downstairs. At some point she had fallen asleep, only to be disturbed by the bed rocking as he got back in. He lay with his back to her. She rolled over and brought her body to his, her chest against his shoulders. He stiffened as she reached over and her hand sought his.
‘You don’t have to,’ he said, his voice shocking her in the quiet.
‘Have to what?’ she asked.
‘Pretend,’ he said. ‘With the children, maybe. But not with me.’
‘I don’t . . .’
Words hung beyond the reach of her tongue. Anger rose in her, but the root of his bitterness remained so veiled that she could form no argument against it. Instead, she rolled over and crept to her cold edge of the bed. She did not sleep again, rose with the sun, and set about preparing for another weary day.
So now she stood apart from them, as she did more often every day. Her husband and children at the table, she at the window, no longer even trying to make conversation with her family. An intruder in her own home, just as those boys had been.
Alistair’s voice cracked her isolation. She turned her head and said, ‘What?’
‘Your phone,’ he said, a tired sigh carrying the words.
Her mobile vibrated on the table, the screen lighting up.
She crossed from the sink and lifted it. Detective Superintendent Purdy, the display said.
Purdy had only a fortnight left on the job, retirement bearing down on him like a tidal wave. He had confided in Flanagan that although it had seemed like a good idea a year ago when he’d first started making plans, the reality of it, the long smear of years ahead, now terrified him.
Flanagan thumbed the touchscreen. ‘Yes?’
‘Ah, good,’ Purdy said. ‘I wanted to catch you before you left for the station. There’s been a sudden death in Morganstown. The sergeant at the scene reckons suicide, so—’
‘So you thought of me,’ Flanagan said. ‘Thanks a million.’
Flanagan hated suicides. In most cases, the minimum of investigation was needed, but the family would be devastated. Few grieve harder than the loved ones of someone who has taken their own life. They’d be coming at her with questions she could never answer.
‘You’re closer to Morganstown than you are to Lisburn,’ Purdy said, ‘so you can go straight there.’
‘I’ll leave now,’ she said.
‘Take your time. From what the sergeant said, it looks pretty straightforward. You remember that road accident about six months ago? The car dealer?’
Yes, Flanagan remembered. The owner of Garrick Motors, a large used car dealership that occupied a sprawling site on the far side of Morganstown. He had been badly burned, lost both of his legs, if Flanagan recalled correctly. A popular churchgoing couple, good Christians both. Close friends with one of the local unionist politicians. The community had rallied around them. After all, Mr Garrick had contributed much to the area over the years.
‘The wife found him this morning,’ Purdy continued. ‘She phoned the minister at her church first. He went to the house, then he called it in. The FMO’s on scene already.’
Flanagan knew the steps by heart. When a sudden death was reported, a sergeant had to attend to make an initial assessment. Was it natural? Had the deceased been ill? Was it suspicious? If the latter, including a suicide, the scene would be locked down, the Forensic Medical Officer summoned, and an Investigating Officer appointed.
Today, it was Flanagan’s turn.
‘What’s the address?’ she asked, pulling the notebook from her bag. She held the phone between her ear and shoulder as she uncapped the pen and scribbled it down.
Alistair looked up at her from his plate of buttered toast. Ruth and Eli kicked each other under the table, giggling.
‘I can be there in ten minutes.’ Flanagan stuffed the notebook back into her bag, then hoisted the bag over her shoulder. ‘I’ll call DS Murray on the way.’
She was halfway to Morganstown, trees whipping past her Volkswagen Golf, when she realised she hadn’t said goodbye to her husband or children.
A uniformed constable opened the door to Flanagan. A beautiful house, inside and out, at the end of a sweeping drive. Not long built, by the look of it, and finished with enough taste to prevent its grandeur straying into vulgarity.
‘Ma’am,’ the constable said when Flanagan showed her warrant card. ‘In the back.’
He looked pale. Flanagan wondered if it was his first sudden death. At least the next of kin had found the body, and the constable had been spared delivering the death notice. Flanagan remembered the first time she’d been given that duty, calling at the home of a middle-aged couple whose son had lost control of his new car. Everyone has to do it some time, the senior officer had said, might as well get it out of the way. Even thinking about it now soured Flanagan’s stomach, and she had done dozens more since then.
She stepped into the hall, past the young officer. ‘Where’s the sergeant?’ she asked.
Wooden floors. A staircase with polished banisters rose up to a gallery on the first floor, cutting the hallway in two. Art on the walls, mostly originals, a few prints. Framed scripture verses. A large bible ostentatiously open on the hall table.
Serious money, here, Flanagan thought. So much money there was no need for another penny, but still you couldn’t help but make more. And yet it didn’t save Mr Garrick in the end.
‘In the living room,’ the constable said, ‘with the deceased’s wife.’
Flanagan looked to her right, through open double doors into a large living room. A stone fireplace built to look centuries old. No television in this room, but a top end hi-fi separates system was stacked in a cabinet, high quality speakers at either end of the far wall. A suite of luxurious couches and armchairs at the centre, all arranged to face each other. The widow, Mrs Garrick, red-eyed and slack-faced sitting with a man whom Flanagan assumed to be the clergyman, even though he wore no collar. Her hands were clasped in his. The other uniformed officer sat opposite them: a female sergeant she recognised but whose name Flanagan could not recall.
She got up from the couch, and said, ‘Ma’am.’ She carried a clipboard, held it out to Flanagan.
‘Are you my Log Officer?’ Flanagan asked, keeping her voice respectfully low.
‘Have you done this before, Sergeant . . .?’
‘Carson,’ the sergeant said. ‘A few times. I know the drill.’
‘Good,’ Flanagan said, taking the offered pen. She saw Dr Phelan Barr’s signature already scrawled on the 38/15 form. She signed beneath and handed the pen back. ‘DS Murray’s on the way. When he arrives, send him back, and I’ll come and speak with Mrs Garrick. Then I want you on the door to the room, understood?’
‘Is there a clear path from the door to the body?’
‘Okay, make sure anyone you let in knows to stick to that.’
Flanagan looked over Sergeant Carson’s shoulder to see Mrs Garrick and the rector watching from their place on the opposite couch. Flanagan nodded to them each in turn. ‘I’ll be with you in a few minutes,’ she said.
She walked along the hallway to the right of the staircase. On the other side, she saw the dining room with its twelve-seater table, and the kitchen, all white gloss and black granite. And here what had once been another reception room but now was a makeshift care unit.
The Forensic Medical Officer, Dr Barr, stood over the corpse, writing on a notepad. Flanagan looked from him to the bed and the scarred ruin of a man beneath the sheets. She let a little air out of her lungs as she always did at the sight of a body. A tic she had borrowed from DSI Purdy.
Barr heard and turned to her. A small man in his late fifties who always managed to look dishevelled no matter how smartly he dressed. He was known to have a drink problem, had lost his marriage over it, yet Flanagan had never so much as caught a whiff of it on him, he kept it so well hidden.
‘Ah, DCI Flanagan,’ Barr said. ‘Never a pleasure.’
‘Likewise,’ Flanagan said.
A small joke they always shared over a body. Neither of them enjoyed the company of the dead, but it was when they most frequently met. Flanagan took a step inside the room, smelled the hospital smell, and the death.
‘Well?’ she asked.
‘I’ll call it suicide,’ Barr said, ‘unless something remarkable turns up. I expect the post-mortem to confirm an overdose of morphine granules.’ He waved his pen at the wheeled overbed table that had been pushed aside, presumably to give Barr access to the body. ‘I count ten sachets of granules. One mixed in with a carton of yogurt would be enough to give him a good night’s sleep. I expect he dumped the lot in and chewed them up. He just swallowed and went to sleep. Simple as that.’
Flanagan saw the pot on the table, and the spoon in Mr Garrick’s hand. And the framed photographs lined up on the table. She couldn’t see them from here, but she assumed they were of loved ones, living and dead. Hadn’t she heard something about the couple losing a child? A wisp of a memory, a conversation overheard in the supermarket in Moira, did you hear about the Garricks? The wee girl drowned when they were on holiday, isn’t it terrible?
Tragedy clustered around some families. Most lived their lives untouched by the kind of sorrow that plagued a few. One child lost, then another years later. Or illness of one kind or another taking a mother while her children were tiny, then a sibling, an uncle, or a cousin. Some families drew such misfortune to them like the pull of gravity.
Flanagan went to ask a question, but something stopped the words on her tongue. She looked again at the table pushed close to the patio door, one end pressed into the drawn curtain.
‘What?’ Barr asked, shaking her loose from her thoughts.
‘Nothing,’ she said. ‘Any note?’
‘No,’ Barr said, ‘but I don’t think we need to wonder too hard about his motivation.’
Flanagan could not begin to imagine what the last six months had been like for this man, or for his wife. What kind of life could this be? Then she scolded herself. She knew plenty of police officers left mutilated by bombs who had fought back, fought hard, and made new lives for themselves. Painful lives, maybe, but meaningful nonetheless.
From the doorway, a voice said, ‘Ma’am.’
Detective Sergeant Craig Murray, still nervous around her despite being her right-hand man for almost nine months. He had worked out well so far. Conscientious, reliable, smart enough to know when to shut his mouth. She’d keep him as long as she could. Good assistants were hard to come by; her last, DS Ballantine, hadn’t worked out, even as capable as the young woman had been. The trust between them had broken down – it couldn’t have done otherwise – and without trust, the relationship would not work. Ballantine would be all right. Flanagan wouldn’t be surprised if she made Detective Inspector within the next few years.
‘What do you need me to do?’ Murray asked.
‘Stay here,’ Flanagan said. ‘Help Dr Barr with anything he needs. I’ll be speaking with Mrs Garrick.’
She left them, walked along the hall to the double doors leading into the living room. Flanagan paused there and watched.
Mrs Garrick and the rector, hands still clasped together, staring at some far-off memory. Each looked as battered as the other, as if the rector grieved as hard as the widow. The policewoman noticed Flanagan, stood, and said, ‘Ma’am.’
Flanagan entered the room and said, ‘Thank you, Sergeant Carson, I can take it from here. You know what to do.’
Carson left them, and Flanagan walked to the centre of the room, stood in front of the minister and the widow. ‘Mrs Garrick,’ she said, ‘I’m very sorry for your loss. I’m Detective Chief Inspector Serena Flanagan. Can we have a quick chat?’
The minister stood, releasing Mrs Garrick’s hand, and reached for Flanagan’s. A small and slender man, narrow-shouldered, salt-and-pepper hair, a neatness about him that bordered on prissy. As they shook, he said, ‘I’m Peter McKay, the rector at St Mark’s. Do you have to do this now, or could it wait for another time?’
‘It’s usually best to have an initial conversation as soon as possible,’ Flanagan said. ‘Mrs Garrick isn’t obliged to talk to me, of course, but the sooner we get it out of the way, the better.’
McKay looked down at Mrs Garrick, who remained seated, worrying a tissue between her fingers. She still wore her silk dressing gown over her nightdress, red hair spilling across her shoulders. A good-looking woman, mid thirties. If not beautiful, then at least the kind to make men look twice. The kind teenage boys whispered to each other about, tinder for their adolescent fires.
‘It’s all right,’ Mrs Garrick said, her voice firm despite the tears. ‘Let’s get it out of the way.’
‘Thank you,’ Flanagan said, sitting on the couch opposite. ‘I’ll be as quick as I can.’
McKay took his place once more beside Mrs Garrick, slipped his fingers between hers. He squeezed, Flanagan noticed, but Mrs Garrick did not return the gesture. Flanagan took her notepad and pen from her bag, readied them.
‘Mrs Garrick,’ she said, ‘can you please tell me, as simply as you can, what happened last night and this morning.’
Mrs Garrick took a breath, held it as she closed her eyes, then exhaled. Her eyelids fluttered, releasing another tear from each. She wiped at her cheeks, sniffed, and then spoke.
‘Everything was normal,’ she said. ‘Or as normal as it can be, I suppose. I made dinner for us both, cottage pie, easy for Harry to eat with a spoon, you see. I ate with him, with the tray on my lap. We do that every evening. Then Harry always has his yogurt for dessert. That’s what he mixes the morphine granules with.’
‘You didn’t do that for him?’ Flanagan asked.
‘No. I did at first, but Harry insisted on doing it for himself a few days after he came home from the hospital. He hates being waited on. He wants to do as much for himself as he can, whether he’s fit to or not.’ Mrs Garrick’s eyes went distant for a moment. ‘He wanted to, I should say. Everything’s past tense now. It’ll take a while to get used to that, like when –’
She froze there, mouth open, words that would never leave her tongue. Flanagan remembered the photograph of the child and kept her silence.
After a while, Mrs Garrick blinked, inhaled, and continued.
‘We kept the box of little morphine packets by the bed, where he could reach them. One sachet to get him through the night. The doctor told us he’s not to chew the granules. They’re supposed to be swallowed whole so they dissolve in his stomach as he sleeps. Best way to take them is to mix a packet with yogurt and just eat it with a spoon. So he ate his dinner as normal, then I helped him do his toilet. Then the doorbell rang, and it was Reverend Peter.’
The rector spoke up. ‘I sometimes call by to see Mr Garrick. Just to chat, see how he’s doing. We pray together.’
‘I gave Peter the yogurt to take to Harry,’ Mrs Garrick said.
‘He didn’t eat it, though. He said he’d keep it for later.’
Mrs Garrick turned to McKay. ‘You were with him for, what, half an hour?’
‘Something like that.’
‘You didn’t look in on him after Reverend McKay had left?’ Flanagan asked.
‘Reverend Peter,’ McKay said. ‘Or Reverend Mr McKay. But not . . .’
The rector’s voice faded as his gaze dropped, his cheeks reddening.
Mrs Garrick cleared her throat and said, ‘Just to kiss him goodnight. The yogurt was still there, and I told him to eat it up and get some sleep. I didn’t go in after that. Some nights I do, some I don’t. Depends how tired I am. I just cleared up, did the dishes, and went to bed myself.’
‘And this morning?’
‘I woke up before five, before the alarm went off. I usually wake Harry around six-thirty, and I like to have an hour or so to myself. When it’s quiet.’
‘I know the feeling,’ Flanagan said, offering Mrs Garrick a hint of a smile.
‘Anyway, this morning, I don’t know why, but I decided to look in on him earlier than usual. Funny, that, isn’t it? This morning of all mornings. I went to his door and I knew straight away something was wrong. He always snores when he’s on the morphine. You can hear him on the other side of the house.’
Mrs Garrick’s eyes brightened. ‘Maybe that’s why I went in to him, do you think? Maybe I wasn’t conscious of it, but I didn’t hear him snoring when I came downstairs, so that’s why I went to his room. Is that why?’
She looked to Flanagan for an answer, as if being right would make everything better.
‘Possibly,’ Flanagan said, giving another kind smile.
This time, Mrs Garrick returned the gesture, but only for a moment before the smile fell away. ‘So I opened the door,’ she said, ‘and I just knew. He hadn’t turned his light off, the one by the bed. He was just lying there, all quiet and still, and I knew he was dead. My first thought was his heart, it’d just given up. Then I saw he’d moved the pictures from the locker, put them in front of him, and I wondered why he did that. And then I saw the spoon, and the box of sachets beside him on the bedclothes. So I knew then what he’d done.’
‘But you didn’t call an ambulance or the police,’ Flanagan said.
‘No,’ Mrs Garrick said, now squeezing McKay’s fingers between hers. ‘Maybe I should have, but I suppose I wasn’t thinking straight. Peter’s been with us since the accident, every step of the way – before that, even. He’s always been such a rock for us. Him and the Lord Jesus. So Peter was the first person I thought of.’
The rector spoke up. ‘I came over as soon as Mrs Garrick called. And when I saw Mr Garrick, I called the emergency services.’
‘Then we came in here and prayed,’ Mrs Garrick said.
Flanagan pictured them both, kneeling, eyes closed, mouths moving, talking to nothing but air. Stop it, she told herself. They need their belief now. Don’t belittle it.
‘How about Mr Garrick’s mood in recent days?’ she asked. ‘Had you noticed any change?’
‘No,’ Mrs Garrick said. ‘His mood was up and down, it has been – had been – since the accident. Good days and bad days, like you’d expect. But he always had God with him. He always clung to that. Didn’t he, Peter?’
McKay nodded. ‘Harry always said God must have let him live for a reason. He wouldn’t leave him to suffer like that if there wasn’t a purpose behind it.’
‘And what did you say?’ Flanagan asked. The question rang more curtly than she’d intended and the clergyman flinched a little, before his expression hardened.
‘I agreed,’ he said. ‘I could never say otherwise. It’s what I believe.’
‘Of course,’ Flanagan said. ‘But what changed?’
McKay’s shoulders slumped. ‘Who knows? Sometimes faith isn’t enough, I suppose, no matter how much I’d like it to be. Sometimes faith lets us down.’
Flanagan saw something in his eyes in the moment before he looked away. An image flashed in her mind: a man falling. The image lingered long after her questions were done.
When it came to matters of faith, Reverend Peter McKay had lied so long and so often that he sometimes couldn’t tell the difference himself. And no matter what he believed, or rather didn’t, Mr Garrick had survived this long purely on the certainty that there was some greater reason for his agonised existence. McKay would never have told him otherwise.
This policewoman terrified him.
He wore his mask with such practised skill, he didn’t think she could see through it, but still, the fear swamped him like cold water. She can’t see, he told himself. She is blind to my sin. If she knew what he had done, if she knew where his hands had been, what wicked sweetness he had tasted, her questions would not be so cordial. Her tone would not be so sympathetic.
‘I think that’s all for now,’ she said. What did she say her name was? Flanagan, wasn’t it? Yes, Flanagan. ‘I will have more questions for you both once the coroner’s report is done. And I’ll need to get formal statements, but there’s no immediate rush.’
She leaned forward, spoke softy.
‘Mrs Garrick, there are things we need to do here. For your husband. Things you might not want to see. Things you might not want to hear. Is there somewhere you can go, maybe? Just for the next few hours?’
‘My house,’ McKay said. Perhaps too quick, too eager. As he watched Flanagan’s face for a sign that she’d noticed, Roberta twitched her fingertips against his palm.
A warning. Careful. She’ll know.
She’ll know the things we did together.
But Flanagan’s expression did not change from one of warm sympathy.
‘That sounds like a good idea,’ she said. ‘And I’ll know where to reach you if I need to. If that’s all right with you, Mrs Garrick?’
Roberta hesitated, then nodded, and said, ‘Of course.’
‘Good,’ Flanagan said. ‘Perhaps you want to go to him. We can give you a few minutes alone, if you like. I’d just ask you not to touch anything.’
‘Yes,’ Roberta said. ‘Please.’
She stood, and Flanagan and McKay did the same.
Flanagan took Roberta’s hands in hers, saying, ‘And once again, I’m truly sorry for your loss.’
McKay went to follow Roberta, but she turned, put a hand to his forearm, telling him, no, just me. Alone. He watched her leave, a feeling he could not identify biting at the edge of his consciousness.
‘St Mark’s, you said?’
Startled, he turned back to Flanagan. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘Morganstown. At the end of the main street.’
‘I know it,’ she said, scribbling on her pad. ‘I think I’ve been to a couple of funerals there. You probably conducted the ceremonies.’
‘Probably,’ he said, walking away, towards the doorway. He stopped there, one hand against the frame. He watched the medical officer leave the rear room, stand respectfully outside it with his hands folded in front of him, next to the sergeant with her clipboard. Beyond them, Roberta, standing over her dead husband.
Don’t weep, McKay thought. Don’t weep. At least give me that.
But she wept, and for a moment so fleeting he couldn’t be sure it had ever been at all, he hated her.